Encouraging Healthy Hamstrings With Physical Therapy Exercises
This article about healthy hamstrings was written by Paul Nasri, PT, DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Sarrica Physical Therapy & Wellness
As the weather begins to change and become warmer, people are thinking about the activities and exercises done outdoors. Now isn’t the time for cold weather or indoor exercises, even though these are great ways to stay healthy. No, instead, everyone’s thinking about what they can do to get – and stay – outdoors.
Hamstring strains (also referred to as a “pulled hamstring”) are very common in the athletic populations. Soccer, basketball, football, and running are some of the sporting activities that commonly result in these injuries, because they are all sports where participants move around a lot. So, how do these injuries happen, and how can you reduce the risk of suffering from one?
The is injury impacts athletes in the following ways:
Soccer players: A hamstring strain typically happens during the eccentric or deceleration phase of a kick (basically the “forward” or “follow through” phase). At this time, the hamstring is overstretched too quickly and can tear.
Baseball players: These types of injuries happen most often when sprinting to first base or traveling quickly across the outfield to catch a fly ball. Knee injuries are also very common for baseball players.
Runners: These types of hamstring injuries occur when athletes over-stride and pull themselves forward with the use of their hamstrings. Uphill running most commonly irritates the injury, potentially making it more severe and requiring more time to heal. Hamstring injuries may also cause other injuries to present or worsen, like hip flexor injuries.
Being aware of the way your body responds to activity is essential. Another essential part of being an athlete or participating in individual sports or activities? Proper breathing techniques.
Keeping Hamstrings Healthy Via Physical Therapy Exercise
In order to promote healthy hamstrings and overall ability to participate in the sports that we enjoy, there are many considerations that athletes can (and should) make each time they take the field. The following list is only a small number of ideas and actions that people can practice.
- Improving the way you use your body when running in order to ensure that the movements are safe
- Increasing hamstring strength (concentric and eccentric) and flexibility (static and dynamic) gradually over time
- Stretching exercises can improve hip and gluteal muscle function, releasing tension and increasing the amount of control people have over their hamstrings.
- Changing the diet to include foods and beverages that will promote muscle recovery
In many instances, you will be provided with a program of home exercises to perform on your own as well, as long as your body can physically handle it. This means that the injury does not prevent you from taking care of yourself and regaining strength. In physical therapy cases, patients are typically seen after they have already had a hamstring injury and need help getting back to having healthy hamstrings. These injuries are treated by one or more of the following methods:
- Soft tissue massage
- Myofascial release
- Corrective exercise
The focus is on making sure that an injury doesn’t happen again once it has healed, but it’s also on keeping people safe throughout the process. Many accomplish this with progressive loading, drills for control, and flexibility training. Who supervises? Trained and capable physical therapists and other medical professionals.
Another thing to remember is that not all exercise needs to be lengthy. Exercise efficiency relies on giving people the tools to perform meaningful exercise, not just focusing on the time spent in the gym or on the activities. Quick home exercises are just as effective as long runs or bike rides. It’s all about finding what works best for your particular needs.
Patients Recover From Hamstring Injuries Using Common Types of Exercise
Recovering from hamstring injuries is about more than simply waiting for the injury to resolve itself and doing nothing in the meantime. Most people use their legs on a daily basis. So strengthening and conditioning these muscles while they heal is imperative. Listed below are some of the most common and useful exercises that physical therapists will use with their clients during the recovery period. These lead patients on the way back to having healthy hammies in a safe and effective manner.
1. Hip Hinge: Tall Kneeling
This exercise helps to retrain the hip extensors, focusing on the gluteus maximus. Use the band as an external tactile cue. Be sure to avoid hyperextension of the lower back while completing this hamstring exercise.
2. Deadlifts: Using Kettlebells
The deadlift is a very functional movement pattern, and is beneficial for core, back and hip strengthening all at the same time. This isn’t simply an exercise for healthy hamstrings, it’s a way to do a lot of good for the body at once.
3. Hamstring Stretch: Active Style
This is a great active stretch for the hamstrings. Passive stretching with a static hold is fine as well. This stretch forces you to move throughout the range of the motion without overtaxing your body.
4. Bridges : Roll out and Heel Driven, Double/Single Leg
Double/single leg bridge: Bridging is a very critical movement pattern to perform when recovering after a hamstring injury like a strain. This can help to differentiate between hamstring and gluteal recruitment. Most patients with overworked hamstrings have decreased gluteal activation and motor control, meaning that these functions will need to be increased and improved as the healing happens
Roll out bridge: This is a high-level hamstring exercise that focuses on concentric and eccentric control of the healing hamstring muscles. Performing this exercise is a good progression after bridging. It is only recommended after redeveloping control. This is also an exercise that helps strengthen the core. Core exercises like this one have an impact on the whole body, which is helpful.
Heel driven bridge: This bridge variation focuses on contracting the hamstrings. It isn’t an exercise to perform in the acute stage of injury. However, it can be very helpful in the next stage of recovery.
5. Deadlift – Single Leg
This exercise is a great hip stability exercise because it forces you to maintain a single leg stance. It is very important to hinge at the hips for this one. You may not always use the foam roller, but it helps to maintain the appropriate form throughout the hamstring exercise. Feel free to advance this by using a dumbbell or kettlebell for additional external resistance.
Utilizing Physical Therapy Services for Healthy Hamstrings
Your physical therapist may want you to complete one or more of these exercises while you’re focused on recovering. Before beginning an exercise routine at home, be sure to consult with them first. Though physical therapy is useful in a variety of situations (suggested activities can even be turned into a game), exercising safely is necessary. Though classified in many different ways, these exercises are often helpful for people outside of their target groups, too. For example, pregnancy exercises like the ones listed here are great for pregnant women. However, they are also similar in nature to the hamstring strengthening exercises listed above.
While you will want to feel and see progress, it’s important that you only do so when it is safe. After an injury, if you’re looking to connect with a physical therapist that can help you develop a plan for healing, look no further than Sarrica Physical Therapy and Wellness or use the BetterPT clinic locator tool. This site will put you in touch with teams of physical therapists that will help you recover from hamstring injuries and provide valid advice to ensure overall safety. Another option is to download the BetterPT app which allows you to find a facility or network close to you in a few simple clicks. Or, if you’re looking for all the benefits of a physical therapy program without leaving your home, consider telehealth services with the BetterTelehealth platform.
Virtually meeting with a physical therapy professional is just as effective as in-person sessions.
Dr. Paul Nasri is a licensed physical therapist in New York state, experienced in working with sports and orthopedic injuries. Dr. Nasri’s focus after graduation in 2016 is on the analysis of how to best reduce injury risk during training and participating in sports. Not only working with Sarrica Physical Therapy, Dr. Nasri also works on staff at Staten Island University Hospital. He focuses on one-on-one treatment sessions for patients that have suffered from sports injuries. He also treats those recovering from a stroke, spinal cord injury, total joint replacement and traumatic brain injury (TBI).